The Martyr Marmehnam
Qes Adamu Tesfaw (Ethiopian, b. 1933)
MediumPaint on cloth
DimensionsWork : 30 1/2 x 68 in. (77.47 cm x 1.7 m)
Credit LineGift of Neal and Elizabeth Sobania
LabelTradition says that Marmehnam was the son of a noble family from the city of Athor in what is now modern Iraq. His father was a pagan but his mother was Christian. One day while he was out hunting, Marmehnam encountered a holy man named Matthew who converted him to Christianity. Marmehnam in turn convinced his sister and his retainer to become Christians as well. Marmehnam’s father was angered by his son’s embrace of Christianity and demanded that he renounce his new faith. When Marmehnam refused, his father had him, his sister and his retainers executed. Marmehnam’s mother had the bodies buried in stone coffins, which later became the site of many miracles. Warrior saints like Marmehnam were traditionally venerated by Ethiopia’s secular aristocracy, who viewed themselves as protectors of both the church and the common people. This painting was deliberately made to look older than it is, partly to evoke the heroic romance of Ethiopia’s pre-modern kingdoms, and partly to allow the shopkeeper that sold it to ask a higher price.